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UPDATED: Annenberg Space for Photography is ready for its close-up

March 26, 2009 |  2:18 pm

AnnenbergspaceforphotogrWednesday night the Annenberg Foundation threw a party marking the opening of the Annenberg Space for Photography. The space is being touted by the foundation as “the first solely photographic cultural destination in the Los Angeles area.”  The print and digital gallery, designed to mimic the optical language of a camera with an aperture in the ceiling and curved walls resembling 35 mm film canisters, is located in Century Park in Century City.

The space was built on the footprint of the old Shubert Theater.  Since a cultural legacy was razed, the building’s developers were required to commit to restore something similar to the community.

“We did a cultural audit of the landscape of L.A., which pointed to the fact that there wasn’t a prominent venue devoted to photo as its single mission,” says Leonard Aube, the managing director of the Annenberg Foundation. Trustee and vice president Wallis Annenberg loved the idea and the foundation went about creating a unique 10,000 square-foot gallery capable of displaying nearly 80 classic prints on the wall and more than 1,000 digital images in the digital gallery.

The inaugural exhibition, titled “L8s Ang3les,” features the work of seven prominent L.A. photographers including Julius Shulman (who at 98 years old, showed up at the party in a wheelchair), John Baldessari, Greg Gorman, Lauren Greenfield and four Times photographers, Carolyn Cole, Kirk McKoy, Genaro Molina and Lawrence K. Ho. Guests including Eli and Edythe Broad, Rosetta Getty, Liz Goldwyn, Wendy Stark and Betsy Bloomingdale drank, ate and watched a jubilant band perform in a lavish outdoor tent.

Aube says that Century Park’s developers shopped the bare space around to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Getty and the Santa Monica Museum of Art before the foundation decided to move its headquarters to the building and take on the space as way to “redefine the foundation’s relationship to the community.”

No expense was spared when it came to building out the space, which is open to the public and charges no admission fee. The digital gallery sports several high-definition video projectors with resolution nearly seven times greater than that of a plasma television screen. The digital images can be blown up to 7 feet tall, and there are about half-a-dozen smaller screens that also display a constantly rotating cast of photos. The “L8s Ang3les”  exhibition, guest curated by Houston’s Museum of Fine Art photo curator, Anne Wilkes Tucker, will remain on display through June. In July, the gallery will display the winning entries from the “Pictures of the Year International” photojournalism contest.

Just off the digital gallery is a small room with a white rectangular table for workshops (Gorman and Shulman are scheduled to do the first workshops); and beyond that is a reading room stocked with books on photography.

In between those rooms is the gallery’s most innovative flourish: A state of the art kitchen. Why a kitchen? “Because all the best conversations happen in the kitchen,” says Aube. The space is stark and modern with large glass tubes of citrus fruit and wine stacked in bins. It’s meant to be a place for participating photographers to hang out, discuss theory and share ideas. Gorman has already made plans with Catherine Opie, whose richly colored documentary-style photos are also on display, to host a dinner there.

“Kathy and I love to cook, and we’ve talked about breaking bread with people, drinking wine and talking about our approach to photography,” says Gorman. “When I travel to New York City my first stop is always ICP. That kind of thing has always been lacking in L.A. so this space is very valuable to photographers."

-- Jessica Gelt

Photos: Left, Susan and Peter Strauss look at photos during the opening party for the Annenberg Space for Photography. Credit: Chris Weeks. Right, photographers participating in the "L8s Ang3les" exhibition line up for a photo with Wallis Annenberg. Credit: Jeff Vespa / WireImage.

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